Friday, November 2, 2012

Why Everyone Has Daddy Issues in Supernatural (And Other Things)

If there’s one thing that watching television (and, more importantly, being a youth leader) has taught me, it’s that there’s no such thing as an uncomplicated relationship. Seriously. It’s not a thing.

What the exact complications are and where the precise weirdness lies are a huge part of what makes your relationship yours. 

Without those little dings and scratches, we wouldn’t know how to tell our friends from our acquaintances from our parents from our lovers. The flaws are what keep it all real.

That having been said, though, the flaws are also what hurt us and what keep us unhappy.

So. Psych session over. Why am I talking about this?

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that my favorite show is Supernatural. Now, this actually bothers me for a couple of reasons. Chief among them are the fact that the show is actually really terrible to women (see my musings on the show’s massive Madonna/Whore complex here), that it has almost no characters of color who aren’t massive stereotypes, and that it generally is a whole show about white boy pain.

These are the things I don’t love about the show. I don’t love how all women are bitches and all racial stereotypes are represented and all kids are just demon fodder. Not a fan.

But it’s still my favorite show. And I’ve decided to tell you why.

Supernatural is a show about family. I mean, any show is what you put into it, and I happen to like thinking about family because it’s interesting, but I think this is also objectively true. It’s about two brothers, Sam and Dean. Sam was the younger son who railed against their overprotective and neglectful father (impressive that he managed both). Dean was the older brother who devoted his life, and really his self-image on taking care of Sam and being a good son to his father.

It’s a show about two really broken men trying to alternately mend or destroy the relationship between them, and to reconcile themselves with the relationship they both had with their father.

As a viewer, my heart has always gone out to Dean in this situation. I don’t say this because Dean is the more objectively interesting one, though he is to me. I know a lot of people who love Sam, and who totally get where Sam’s coming from. I don’t. Like at all. But I understand that you do and that’s nice.

We’re going to talk about Dean. So there.

Dean is the brother who stays home. When he was four his mother was killed in a malicious attack by literal evil forces. His father, pretty clearly mad with grief, swore revenge, and spent the next twenty-two years on the road looking for the thing that killed her. Dean and Sam were raised in a variety of motel rooms, sketchy apartments, and the back of a very singular car.

Except, that’s not wholly accurate. Dean was raised until he was four, and then, at four, he started raising Sam, who was no more than six months old. While still pre-Kindergarten, Dean became the primary caregiver to an infant, and devoted his life to caring for his little brother.

This relationship has defined him. When we meet Dean in season one, he hasn’t actually seen his brother in two years. It’s impressive then that even knowing that, we still know how much Dean loves his brother. How devastated he is that Sam has rejected their family and family values. And we can see how deeply Dean wants to be in relationship with his brother again.

What’s really interesting to note, though, as the series goes on and the characters are developed, is that Dean doesn’t really have much of an identity outside of his family. He is John’s son. He “looks just like his mother.” He is Sam’s big brother, protector, and everything. His one rule is “look after your brother.”

Then Sam dies and Dean has no idea what to do.

It’s a very sad moment, as a watcher, to realize that Dean has absolutely what he has in his life without Sam. 

He isn’t actually a separate person, he’s sort of an amalgamated identity that needs to feed off of someone. He needs to take care of someone. And Sam doesn’t really want to be that someone.

That’s the episode where Dean sells his soul so that his brother will live. Dean can so little imagine being in the world without his brother, that he would rather damn himself to hell for eternity than go another hour alone.

That is pretty freaking messed up.

Over the next couple of seasons, there are moments when the show addresses this issue head on. I won’t name all of them, because I have hopes that some of you reading this might actually watch the show. But I will say that their relationship certainly never becomes less compelling or, well, screwed up.

Now, what does all of that have to do with me liking this show and why should you care?

For me, it’s not a show unless the characters have a little flaw to them. And it’s not a relationship unless I can see the cracks. Too many writers think that when they’re writing a scene or a character, they need to make it all airtight. Everything has to fit together and make perfect sense, or else you’ll lose the reader, right?

Well, no. In reality, almost nothing is airtight. Sure, Dean is obsessed with his brother because their father put a lot of pressure on him to be like that, but a large part is also just Dean. Dean’s an interesting character for the way he went above and beyond in his screw-up-ed-ness. His relationship with Sam is interesting not because they’re close, but because they’re claustrophobic. And because Sam wants out.

Too many stories and shows (Revolution, Arrow, Smallville, to name just a few) go too far in making their characters “relatable”. They forget that the real thing we relate to is brokenness. We’re all people, and we’re all messed up here. What we want to see is stories about people who’re messed up in the same places. I love Dean because I can relate to him, and I love Supernatural because the screwed up relationships on that show are screwed up relationships that I understand.

In writing, it’s important to leave a few imperfections in. Or else it’s not reality, it’s The Matrix.

The first one. Before the machines got smart.

*ugly cries*

No comments:

Post a Comment